Art Nouveau: Morris, Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

“The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.”
William Morris

In my June 22nd post,  William Morris, along with soon-to-be life-long friend, Edward Burne-Jones, entered Exeter College at Oxford determined to become Anglican clergymen.  It wasn’t long before they both gave up this idea to devote their energies on social reform.   William had two ideas in mind: 1) to become an architect and 2) to launch a magazine that would include poetry, short stories, and social articles.  In 1856, both ideas came to fruition. He was accepted as a pupil at the office of George Edmund Street, an English Gothic revival architect. The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, at his expense, came out on New Year’s Day of the same year.   William gave up his editorship position after the first issue.  Even though the articles were noteworthy, the magazine lost momentum in its first and final year.  Out of this venture, William became friends with one of the contributors:  Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This meeting was to have great significance for both men.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (aka Pre-Raphaelites) formed in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.   This brotherhood of English painters, poets and critics, grew to seven with the additions of William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner. Pre-Raphaelites wanted to reform art.  Their objective was to revive the purity and sincerity that they felt existed in art before the great Renaissance master, Raphael (hence their name). They believed his work, in particular, had been a corrupting influence. Pre-Raphaelites focused on “realism,” concentrating on poetic, moral or religious subject matter.  Some consider that the Pre-Raphaelites were the first avant-garde art movement.  However, others question this premise because the Pre-Raphaelites still believed that history paintings, (depicts a story rather than a static subject such as a portrait) and imitation of nature, were fundamental to the purpose of art.

In 1861, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti went into partnership on a decorative arts firm, with an assortment of other artistic friends. Together, they transformed the way in which churches and houses were decorated well into the early 20th century.

William Morris, author, illustrator and lover of all things medieval paved the way for the modern fantasy genre and was a guiding light to postwar authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien.

One Comment

Comments are closed.